Aquaponics mimics the setup in an ecosystem where the fish and the plants work together to keep each other alive, wherein there is no intervention from any humans. For this very reason, aquaponics is a self-sufficient method of food production since it can operate independently provided all the necessary factors are present. In this post, we will learn more about the aquaponics feature of being self-sufficient and how we can maintain it.
What does self-sufficient mean?
The term "self-sufficient" describes a system that is able to meet its needs without outside intervention. Another word for "self-sufficient" is "self-sustainable."
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics in a novel way. It entails establishing an essential, self-sufficient plant and fish ecosystem that will feed you and others with fresh, healthful veggies and protein.
What makes aquaponics self-sufficient?
The nitrate cycle is what makes the process operate in any aquaponics system. The waste from the fish is broken down in the water by nitrogen-fixing bacteria and turned into nitrates and nitrites. The presence of too much nitrogen in the water would kill the fish, but plants can utilize these forms of nitrogen as food.
The aquarium water is pumped into the aquaponics grow bed, where the plants filter the water and remove the nitrogen; the filtered water is then returned to the tank. The primary principle of operation is that the fish fertilize the plants while the plants clean the water.
The system is autonomous except for the occasional addition of fish food and system maintenance. Only when it's time to harvest all of the ripened crops will you need to deal with your aquaponic system again.
The incredible thing about a home aquaponics system is that it can fit into any type of space, from one's corner office to a spacious warehouse. After completing its setup, the grower can allow the system to function independently.
How to plan your self-sufficient aquaponics system?
You should know the scale of aquaponics before acquiring supplies for constructing any system. Below are some of the factors you should consider in building aquaponics setups.
Carefully select your location. Once your system is up and operating, you don't want to mess with it. It's challenging to relocate even the most straightforward systems without entirely disassembling them. Plants, fish, and microbes are all stressed by exercise.
Look for a well-lit place (unless you plan to use artificial lighting). Use a shade screen to avoid excessive water heating if your region has a lot of sun and high temperatures.
You should also consider the construction materials that you will need in building your aquaponics setup. Here are some of the items you have to prepare:
- Fish tank
- Grow bed
- Grow media
- Air pump with air stones
- Water pump
- PVC pipings and fittings
- pH meters
- Aquarium thermometer
Choosing the type of fish that will occupy your tanks is crucial. One of the things that you would need to consider is the purpose of your fish. Will you raise them as another source of income, or would you only need to provide essential nutrients for your aquaponics plants? If you aim to earn money from the fish, it is advisable to raise edible fish with high market value.
The climate in your region should also be considered in selecting your aquaponics fish.
If you live in places with warm temperatures, these fish will do well:
- Jade perch
- Largemouth bass
For cold-climate regions, the following fish are recommended:
The size of the system determines the kind of plants for your aquaponics systems. You will want to go after plants that demand a lower nutrient concentration if you're working with a small system because this means fewer fish and thus less waste to fertilize your plants with. In general, leafy greens and herbs make excellent small-scale aquaponics plants.
Here are some recommended plants for small-scale aquaponics:
- Leafy lettuce
If you are interested in a larger scale aquaponics operation, grow plants other than greens and herbs. Because there are more fish and hence more waste in the system, you can experiment with plants with higher nutrient requirements. To ensure optimal nutrient absorption, keep an eye on the water's nitrate and electrical conductivity levels.
How can I keep my aquaponics self-sufficient?
The practical means of keeping your aquaponics self-sufficient is conducting a series of maintenance procedures. Your ultimate goal is to identify any red flags that would ruin the food production process across the system. Here are some tips that I could provide:
- Feed your fish properly: In an aquaponics system, feeding the fish properly is a must. It is critical to ensure that they are adequately fed at all times. Feed them at least once a day, but two meals are strongly recommended: one in the morning and one before dusk. When feeding your fish, it's usually best to be physically there so you can perform health checks and search for strange behavior. You should, however, consider acquiring an automatic feeder to assist you when you are not around.
- Check your water quality: Check pH, temperature, ammonia, and nitrate levels weekly. Problems with water quality can harm your aquaponics system. As a result, it's critical to watch them frequently to avoid issues. When necessary, adjust the levels of your water quality parameters.
- Do not overstock your fish: If you keep the stocking density modest, your aquaponic system will be easier to handle and more resistant to shocks and collapse. The ideal stocking density is 20 kg/1 000 liters, which leaves plenty of room for plant growth. Remember that while higher stocking densities might generate more food in the same area, they also necessitate considerably more active management.
- Avoid plant overcrowding: Overcrowding in your grow bed, floating raft, or nft pipes should be avoided. Plants require space to obtain sufficient nutrients and sunlight. Overcrowding can make it difficult for plants to grow their roots. It can also reduce the nutrients that crowded plants can collect from the soil, producing developmental issues.
- Inspect your plumbing: To ensure proper circulation, double-check that all pumps and piping are connected and operating correctly. This should be examined daily, and all pumps and pipelines should be cleaned once a month. It's a time-consuming and dirty job, but it's necessary to keep your system running well. Running high-pressure water through each component with a hose is a fantastic technique to clean them.
- Examine your pumps and filters: To avoid clogging, clean your filters, clarifiers, and biofilters every month. If your pipes become clogged, it can reduce the performance of your filters and raise the levels of ammonia in your fish tank, which is highly harmful to the fish and must be avoided.
Can you use rainwater in aquaponics?
Rainwater has nearly no salt, which is ideal for aquaponics systems because it prevents salinity development over time. The pH of collected rainwater usually is neutral, and the concentration of both types of hardness is relatively low. However, because rainwater in locations plagued by acid rain contains an acidic pH, it is recommended that the collected rainwater be buffered to increase the KH.
The finest water to utilize in an aquaponics system is rainwater. It is potable, fresh, and pure water. Rainwater is also free, and collecting it will lower your aquaponics system's operating costs, making it more sustainable.